Friday, April 19, 2013

Meal Planning: A Week in Abi's Life

Welcome to a "Week in the Life"- a meal planning series that offers you a peek into the kitchen's of other women. Every Friday we will be featuring a different woman and a week of the meals she feeds her family. You can read more about the purpose of this series here. Happy meal planning! May your culinary side be inspired :).

Surveying the kitchen before we moved in.
Surveying the kitchen before we moved in.
Welcome to Abi's Kitchen!

When Rachel introduced this new series, she described her weekly meal planning routine with the words "rut," "tedious," and time consuming." I couldn't agree more with her sentiments. I cook almost every night at our house, and every once in a while I find myself banging my head against the wall, just wishing that someone else would tell me what to make for once!

I have a feeling that none of us are alone in the occasional frustration and boredom that comes along with trying to feed our families each week. So in my contribution to this series, I'm going to share a sample menu to (hopefully) lend some inspiration for the week.
My two guys helping out in the kitchen. :)
My two guys helping out in the kitchen. :)
I start my weekly shopping & menu on Monday because that works best for my schedule. If that doesn't work for you, feel free to mix up my suggested order so it suits your family.
Monday- Since Monday night is the one evening I work outside of the home on a regular basis, I have to have dinner ready by 3 pm. It has to travel well and be easily reheatable to suit all of our needs on our busiest weeknight.  This usually translates into a quick one-dish meal.

One of my springtime cravings is a recipe called "Rotini and Sweet Pepper Primavera" from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook: Bridal Edition (12th Edition). Simply cook rotini according to package directions & add sliced asparagus, sweet pepper, and your favorite squash to the pot during the last 3 minutes of cooking time. In the meantime, combine alfredo sauce (homemade or storebought), thyme or tarragon, and a small amount of crushed red pepper. Mix the sauce with the pasta, and voila! A refreshing, slightly spicy springtime meal.

Tuesday- Tuesdays are usually big cooking days for me! During the morning, I'll bake a double batch of bread and/or muffins to use for breakfast throughout the week. Then at naptime, it's off to the kitchen to prep a home-style favorite like meatloaf & mashed potatoes. (Insert your favorite meatloaf recipe here.) I'll usually have carrots or corn (or both!) on the side, and often a green salad too. Yes, it's a big meal- but it makes for fantastic leftovers for lunch.

Wednesday- About once or twice a month, I cook off a whole chicken with the intention of stretching that bird out for as many meals as I can. My new favorite recipe is 20 Cloves of Garlic Roast Chicken from Taste of Home. Roasted root veggies and/or leftover mashed potatoes are fabulous sides for this meal.


After you stand there slaving and picking all the meat off of your bird's bones (you do that, don't you?), do not- I repeat, DO NOT- throw the bones away. You're wasting half your meal if you do! Throw them in a big pot instead & get ready to make easy homemade chicken stock. (You can freeze the bones and make stock at a later date, but I prefer to just get it done right away.)


My quick stock how-to: Add a carrot or two, a couple stalks of celery, whole garlic cloves, a whole peeled onion, salt and pepper, and a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar. You don't even need to cut the veggies, so long as they fit in the pot. Cover it completely with water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer, covered, for at least 2-3 hours. During that time, I clean up the rest of dinner, play with my son & give him his bath, put him to bed, maybe read a while. Afterwards I go back and strain the liquid into another big pot & now discard the solids. Refrigerate your stock overnight. You'll come back tomorrow to finish the job. (If you want a complete, detailed run-down of the why & how on making & using stock, check out Kitchen Stewardship's blog post How to Make Homemade Chicken Stock.)
My freezer stocked with stock. :)
My freezer stocked with stock!
Thursday- After two labor-intensive meals, I'm usually ready for an easy night again. You do have to finish the stock today, but guess what? It only takes 5 minutes, and then all of your hard work will pay off for weeks to come. Take your big pot of stock out of the fridge and open it up. You'll discover that overnight the fat separated and came to the top. Skim the thick yellow gelatinous stuff with a spoon and discard (or leave it alone, if you're a traditional foodist). Pour most of the stock in glass jars or plastic containers to freeze, but make sure to reserve some fresh for the rest of the week's recipes.
For example, you can use about 2 cups of stock for tonight's dinner: Easy Peasy: Nigella Lawson's Easy Pea Soup, served with salad & crusty bread. I usually don't like pea soup at all, but this one is fantastic. It calls for vegetable stock, but I've always made it with chicken stock and it tastes great to me. Of course, you're welcome to actually follow the recipe and let me know how it comes out. ;)

Friday- How about breakfast for dinner? Some of our favorite combos are cheddar-broccoli scrambled eggs with toast, french toast (or pancakes) with bacon, or just good ole' waffles with your favorite toppings. Health food? Maybe, maybe not- it depends on your nutritional views and your choice of meal- but I assure you, it's worth it.

(Note: I encourage the use of local, organic farm eggs when you can- the taste & nutritional value is far superior to store bought, even if they do cost more. We buy ours from a co-worker for $3/dozen instead of the absurd $4.50/dozen they're trying to charge at supermarkets for a similar product that's not nearly as fresh.)

Saturday- I don't like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen on weekends because I'd rather be spending it with family. So I try to do an easy meal Saturday with easy prep for Sunday's meal. The warmer weather has been getting me in the mood for picnic food, so I'll plan on salad (perhaps one with spinach and strawberries?) hot dogs, & an easy summery vegetable like corn or grilled squash.

For you real foodists, I've found some nitrate-free, no corn syrup, non-GMO ingredient hot dog available at a local farm/butcher (AJ Peachey & Sons) near my grandmother's house for the exact same price as regular hot dogs. They're definitely still a processed food, but they taste SO much better than regular hot dogs and are probably much better for you overall.

Prep for Sunday? Use some of that leftover chicken- with, of course, *ahem*, your homemade stock! (Aren't you glad you went to all that trouble earlier in the week?) Make a chicken pot pie (I use the recipe from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook), your own homemade chicken noodle soup , or try a fun seasonal recipe that uses your leftovers, such as Spring-Thyme Chicken Stew from Taste of Home.

Winter 2012 517
My not-too-pretty but pretty tasty pot-pie!
Sunday- Simply take your prepped meal out of the fridge, and pop 'er in the oven or on the stove top to heat up. That way there will be no stress making dinner after church, and you'll get to sit back and truly have a day of rest.
(Note on my use of chicken: We eat a lot of poultry in our house. However, if you're not keen on prepping a chicken- or if you  just don't want to see it that often, you can always bake a bone-in ham and follow the same principles as the chicken. Use the leftover juices to make ham gravy, leftover ham for dishes such as ham and scalloped potatoes or ham and egg casserole, etc. Whatever you do, plan ahead to use your leftovers wisely and creatively.)

Many thanks to Rachel for inviting me to participate in her "Week in the life..." series! I can't wait to hear what the other bloggers have in store! Be sure to check back each week for more fresh meal ideas.

Abi Zieger is the lovely wife of handsome school teacher husband Tim, and the mama of one little boy, with another baby on the way! When not occupied with her family, she teaches voice lessons, dabbles in sewing, and accompanies women to their births as a doula. She is a {teensy} bit birth obsessed, and you can find her blogging at The Birth Bug. She also happens to be one of my favorite IRL friends :). Thank you for sharing Abi!

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